Cable giant Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI) signed agreements with Sun Microsystems and Microsoft Corporation last week to provide operating environments for 10-15 million Internet set-top boxes over the next three years. The separate agreements form a sort of victory for Sun: had TCI gone with a Microsoft Windows CE-based solution, the boxes could never have used Sun's Personal Java. However, TCI boxes using Personal Java can still use Windows CE.

"We have not yet settled on a single...operating system. We might have more than one," said Bruce Ravenel, Senior VP of TCI. "That's why it's important for us to have Personal Java."

Sun touted their agreement as a "major milestone, recognizing the relevance of Java beyond the desktop." Microsoft's Bill Gates, however, said that Sun's agreement was not nearly as lucrative as the one he got from TCI.

"What Sun announced is that a subset of Java will be in a subset of their set-top boxes," Gates said. "Windows CE will be in all of them. We're looking to work as a partner with cable companies to make sure that when those Web TV boxes are put into place, all their capabilities are exposed through software.